Cedar Rapids parking scofflaws may soon be booted
Proposed windshield 'boot' would replace towing in most cases
CEDAR RAPIDS — Park Cedar Rapids officials want to stop towing cars, in most cases, and start using a newfangled “boot” that blocks a car’s windshield until the driver has paid outstanding tickets.
“Customers can remove it themselves and return it to us,” said Park Cedar Rapids General Manager Jon Rouse.
Right now, people who have five tickets at least 30 days past due are subject to tow. Park CR calls Darrah’s Towing & Recovery and the scofflaw’s car is towed to a lot in Hiawatha, Rouse said.
“It’s not very convenient,” he said.
Rouse plans to propose changes to Cedar Rapids parking code that would allow employees to boot cars with five unpaid tickets.
Future code changes might reduce the number of tickets before booting, Rouse said. Some cities boot after as few as one or two tickets.
“That’s too aggressive,” Rouse said. “We want to find that good medium.”
One booting device Rouse has considered uses suction cups to attach to the windshield, blocking a driver’s view. Drivers who discover the device could call a phone number, pay the tickets by phone and get a code that allows them to release the device.
A driver would then have a few days to return the foldable device to Park CR or pay an additional fine.
“That would be preferable to towing,” said Vernon Brown, 56, of Cedar Rapids, who saw a picture of the Barnacle, the windshield-blocking device being considered by Park CR.
Richard Scott, 53, of Cedar Rapids, said people might try to drive with the windshield blocked.
“Worst case scenario, someone drives with their head out the window,” he said.
Another company, Paylock, has a Smart Boot that looks like a traditional boot that clamps to a car tire, but can be unlocked with a code once tickets are paid.
Cedar Rapids leases its downtown parking system to Downtown Parking Management Inc., which has a five-member board. The not-for-profit hires Park Cedar Rapids, a private company known nationally as Republic, to operate the system with the expectation parking generates at least $1.1 million for the city to pay debt and maintain parking facilities.
Park CR doesn’t tow often — only 32 times in 2015.
“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time helping our employees be extremely customer friendly,” Rouse said.
The contractor doesn’t make any money from towing. Booting would bring in additional fines for Park CR, but that would be needed to cover the cost of 24/7 phone service for people to pay their fines, he said.
“It’s not a cash grab, but we at least want to be able to invest in our structures,” Rouse said.
Carmela Darrah-Chaifos, president of Darrah’s Towing, said the company doesn’t have a strong opinion about the city’s proposed parking changes.
“If there’s another way for them to handle the situation that will work better for them or the community, we’re happy for that,” she said. “If the city needs a tow truck, we’ll send someone.”
The city still may need occasional tows for people who abandon their booted cars or for situations, such as snow emergencies, when they need vehicles off the street.
Proposed parking code changes, including the option to boot, could come before the City Council before the end of the year, Rouse said. Amendments to code must pass three readings.